Honda Insight: PH Carpool

Name: Ewan Dalton
Car: 2001 Honda Insight
Owned since: April 2014
Previously owned: "Honda NSX, Honda S2000, a couple of Lotuses, Audis RS4, Audi S5, Maserati Spyder, Alfa Duetto Spider, various hatchbacks, estates and barges too."

Recognise the wheel? It's from an S2000
Recognise the wheel? It's from an S2000
Why I bought it:
"I have a thing for Hondas. When buying my first S2000 in 2000, I remember seeing the Insight in brochures and thinking it looked weird but different, if not exactly my thing. A decade after seeing the pictures and only having ever passed one on the road, I was captivated at a PH Sunday Service by a Citrus Yellow one another PHer had brought along. I'd never seen one up close before.

"That sowed the seed, and the more I started reading into the Insight, the more I fancied one - Honda engineers showing just what they could achieve, with all kinds of exotic materials and newly invented techniques. They developed a car that's peculiar in all sorts of ways and yet quite cool when you know about it. The same kind of thing that attracted me to the NSX - and people in the know might give you a nod, as if to say 'I like your style'...

"After repeatedly draining the tank of my erstwhile daily car (a B7 RS4 Avant) on some mundane motorway journeys, I went on the internet and, well, you know, eBay can be quite compelling. After a bit of searching, I found this one - certainly one of the lowest mileage first gen (ZE1) Insights in the UK, and with a reasonably fresh battery. A battery is about £2K, so it's an important consideration if an Insight hasn't had a new one since it left the production line - the originals tend to last about 10 years.

"There's growing appreciation for the little Insight thanks to its engineering credentials. Not only was it the first hybrid in the UK, it also used the DC motor to boost the crank of the engine - rather than to power the wheels - so there's no electric-only mode. It's still one of the most aerodynamic cars ever produced, and the lean-burn technology developed was revolutionary. Jay Leno has one, Harry Metcalfe did too - they're becoming popular! The deputy editor of Octane is another owner, and they've appeared in increasing numbers of articles in the motoring press as a 'modern classic'."

The solution when a V8 everyday is a bit much
The solution when a V8 everyday is a bit much
What I wish I'd known:
"More after-purchase than before, I read up on Insight central quite a lot - it's a pretty active owners and enthusiasts group, though most of them are in the US. There are only a couple of hundred Insights in the UK, and in hindsight I might have gone to see a good few of them to decide what I liked or didn't about each. There's also a more-or-less annual Insight meet-up somewhere in the UK, so it would have been possible to see a dozen or more in one place and talk to the owners. There's relatively little variance in spec, other than colour preference and whether you want a manual or a CVT automatic. Inevitably condition and mileage come into consideration too, though looked after Insights can go well beyond 200,000 miles.

"Manuals are generally preferred to the CVT autos, and Japanese imports are starting to show up in numbers on UK shores - they won't be eligible for free VED where UK cars registered after 1 March 2001 are, though. JDM imports with CVT transmission are equipped with the lean-burn eco mode the UK manuals have, but which UK CVTs do not. Some real enthusiasts will go to great ends to eke out extreme mileage - one owner has experimented with replacing the door mirrors with cameras, making more aerodynamic body panels and ripping out extraneous weight in the pursuit of more miles per gallon.

"I think I was lucky with the car I got - people who know a lot about them tell me it's a good one. Just as well really, as I'd never even been in one until the day I collected mine from the vendor at a railway station hundreds of miles away, after a successful eBay snipe. I paid nearly £6K for my car, which is the most I've seen them sell for since, though several other late bidders contacted the vendor to offer him more."

Ewan loves the teardrop shape
Ewan loves the teardrop shape
Things I love:
"It's a surprisingly fun car to drive, yet in a totally different way to the norm. It's relatively nippy in the low gears, and with low rolling resistance and the enthusiast-recommended high pressure in tyres (around 50psi), the little Insight skates around roundabouts and the like. The driving experience is very much about preserving momentum and only braking when you need to stop. My favourite game is driving at the limit in a 30 zone with an entitled IT rep in an aspirational four-cylinder diesel velcro'd to the rear bumper, just to see how many car lengths I can make by scything through the roundabouts without touching the brake.

"The Insight was hand-built in the same Tochigi factory that assembled the NSX and is all-aluminium too, so despite its hybrid gubbins it's quite a light car - around 850kg. I've grown to love the look of the rear wheel spats and the fact the whole car tapers towards the narrower rear track, giving it a sort of teardrop shape. Also there aren't many around so it's not unusual to see people doing a double take, and general reactions from other drivers are more positive than I think would be the case in a Toyota Prius.

"There's something quite nice about driving a slow car, too - it's often quite relaxing. Get in the rhythm of the car and you'll be tootling along at 60-65mph on motorways, along with the coaches and lorries. Tesco rigs tend to stick to 56 and are often really tall, so you can tuck yourself right in and do some slipstreaming if you like that sort of thing, as long as you're prepared to fixate on the brake lights in front.

"I did some work on the interior of this car, though it already had an aftermarket stereo replacement with DAB, nav and Bluetooth. I've switched the steering wheel with a leather covered S2000 one, as they're exactly the same shape but just with different covering and padding. I've also picked up a set of late S2000 blue leather seats, which meant getting an engineering company to fabricate a different set of seat rails so they would fit. I fitted heated seat pads following a tutorial on S2Ki too, so it's toasty in the winter. In fact, the new seats are more comfortable and offer a lot more support as the car skates around corners, which helps with that preservation of momentum..."

Oh yes, there are S2000 seats as well...
Oh yes, there are S2000 seats as well...
Things I hate:
"This is a 15-year-old car so it inevitably has the odd foible. The interior is a bit plasticky but it's pretty well screwed together. It has more road noise than most buyers would tolerate now and it has clunks and creaks that have crept into the suspension. A relatively common fault is for water ingress making for a wet driver's seat belt, but I'll get round to sealing it properly this summer. Also, the demister only works about one-third of the way up the rear screen, and it's a bit of a faff to fix. Maybe I'll just live with it."

"Without really trying, it's easy to get more than 65mpg; by putting a bit more effort in and switching off the air-con, it can be tickled well into the 90s or even higher, meaning a 500-mile range from a £30 tank of petrol is eminently doable. Insurance is cheap at about £250, there's no road tax and servicing is relatively straightforward if there's nothing to fix with the IMA hybrid system. Bodywork can be expensive, including the rear glass - so a single not very serious prang would be enough to write off the car in the eyes of an insurer, though parts are mostly fairly easy to come by and there's a good owner network to help with fixing things that need it. You'll see the odd car being broken for parts, and gannets will swoop on it to bag spares of hard-to-find components.

"Tyres are £60 each, with two new discs and pads (for the front - the rears are drums) were a little over £100. I uprated the rear springs to provide better handling and to avoid hitting the bump stops when driving the car loaded up: they were springs for a Daewoo Matiz, sourced off eBay for the grand sum of £19 each. There's little to no depreciation now, which is nice."

Cheap to run and it's appreciating - winner!
Cheap to run and it's appreciating - winner!
Where I've been:
"Track days? Pan-European road trips? Hooning around north Wales? Er, no.

"I've spent most of the time in the Insight chuntering around the motorway network, although it did one trip to north Yorkshire to visit some specialists. Electronics guru, hybrid fan and PHer peterperkins has developed a few boxes of tricks to control the hybrid functionality (so you can decide when you want the assistance and when you want to charge), and his buddy who runs a car garage has extensive experience in servicing other Insights, so I wanted him to give it a good going over. Following Peter's driving tips, on the way south to Reading the car averaged 95mpg, which I thought wasn't too shabby. Total mileage is only 46,000 or so now, so I've only put 10,000 miles on it since buying two years back."

What next?
"I think this car is a keeper - it's probably my favourite of the present fleet and I can't see any reason to change it, other than maybe to get into an i3 or something else similarly quirky. In the coming months, I'm going to get the wheels refurbed - they're originally diamond-cut though, so hard to do properly and affordably. Moreover, other owners have reported that after a diamond cut refurb, the lacquer tends to need redoing every year or two thereafter. Maybe I'll just get them painted."

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Comments (34) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Ocellia 09 May 2016

    Teardrop shape? Faired in rear wheel? Citroen DS 1955-70!
    Those Frech guys had a few good concepts.
    Always liked the Insight concept too. Pity Honda didn't buy Citroen.

  • Podie 09 May 2016

    Someone on PH had one of these and changed the batteries to get 150mpg...

  • patmahe 09 May 2016

    There is an elegant simplicity to these, its a real form following function shape which always works well, you can tell it will just slip through the air. I wonder how many of the hollywood set that bought up Prius' could even tell you there was a commercially available hybrid long before their (look at me I'm helping the enviroment) car came along.

    By the way I have nothing against the Prius, just some of the owners.

  • leglessAlex 09 May 2016

    I love these cars, a Honda from when Honda were making some really cool, unbelievably well engineered cars. With a modern battery pack and some careful driving they still get crazy miles per gallon!

  • AnotherClarkey 09 May 2016

    patmahe said:
    There is an elegant simplicity to these, its a real form following function shape which always works well, you can tell it will just slip through the air. I wonder how many of the hollywood set that bought up Prius' could even tell you there was a commercially available hybrid long before their (look at me I'm helping the enviroment) car came along.

    By the way I have nothing against the Prius, just some of the owners.
    Er - Prius Gen 1 1997, Insight Gen 1 1999 though to be fair commercial availability varied from country to country.

    It has long amazed me how Honda has managed to balls up their hybrid strategy so spectacularly at every turn since this first, delightful, Insight.

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